I reprint today an article by Peter Oborne from today's Telegraph as a background to the riots in London.
The rioters who have rampaged through the streets of Britain over the past seven days were the children of Tony Blair. Many of them were born under Tony Blair. They went to school under Tony Blair. They learnt their system of savage values and greed under Tony Blair. They are the product of the policies of Tony Blair.
So what happened? What explains the savage irony that New Labour, a movement that was supposed to do so much good, created instead so much evil and despair? This is the urgent question that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband must each try to answer as they get to grips with the horror of last week.
At the heart of this problem lies New Labour’s approach to the welfare state. Gordon Brown developed a social security system that entrenched dependency and trapped the unemployed in poverty. Certainly he gave them more money – the benefits to which a single mother is entitled rose by 85 per cent under New Labour. But he made one crucial mistake as he set out to create a Labour client state. He did not give people hope or self-respect. Indeed, as Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is starting to discover, Brown made it economically irrational for many people to seek work, thus turning unemployment into a way of life. I would guess that many of the young men and women drawn into last week’s frenzy come from families where there have been no jobs for generations.
Shamefully, New Labour knew that form of dependency was a by-product of its policies. It did not care. I once sat on a panel with Lord Giddens, a social theorist and one of the architects of the “Third Way”. I drew attention to the phenomenon of intra-generational unemployment and he replied that, statistically, it was fairly insignificant. Well, we are experiencing the consequences today.
How I should have liked to have been at this encounter. "Statistically, it is fairly insignificant" is a meaningless statement. I can only imagine that Lord Giddens was in his cups when he made it. Did he mean to say that intergenerational unemployment was not statistically significant? Whatever does that mean? How can statistics be 'fairly insignificant'? Or does he mean that it was socially or politically insignificant? I should like to have asked him for his evidence. But of course this was all bluster. We know that one unemployed generations children are the unemployed of the next generation. The statistics are very clear about that.
The second New Labour failure concerns education. Blair promised the earth, and his government poured billions of pounds into the creation of gleaming new school buildings. But New Labour did not challenge the culture of failure in British schools. It did not improve discipline in the classroom.
Instead it created the illusion of change. Year after year exam results would show a marked improvement, and ministers would claim that this reflected an underlying improvement in what they called “standards”. Of course nothing of the sort was taking place, as employers and universities knew all too well.
Fundamentally New Labour lacked the will to take on the teaching unions, partly because the education profession provides such a high proportion of their party activists. This meant that they never took the brutal and necessary step of sacking useless or idle teachers. Only at the very end, with academy schools – a reinvention of John Major’s city technology colleges which New Labour had abolished when it first came into office – did New Labour take a step in the right direction. But this move came too late to save the generation of rioters and looters.
What we have been seeing is the feminization of primary schools. There are hardly any male primary school teachers. Young boys are routinely excluded from lessons in the afternoon because female teachers are unable to provide for their needs - competition, aggressive games, exercise, noise, male role models. Add to that the fact of absent fathers, and it is easy to see why they join gangs, but the pot-smoking petty criminal is the worst of all role models.
Most disturbing of all was New Labour’s teaching on the family. Behind much of the outrage of the past few days lies the absent father, and the collapse of traditional marriage. Young children, boys in particular, need male role models. If they cannot find such figures at home, they will look elsewhere. Horrifically, this means joining the gangs that caused such mayhem and destruction.
New Labour simply refused to acknowledge this basic truth of human nature. It is true that Tony Blair loved to parade himself as a family man to send out a reassuring image to the voters of middle England, but behind the scenes party policy was captured by feminists such as Patricia Hewitt (who became health secretary) and Harriet Harman (eventually elected deputy leader) who viewed the traditional two-parent family as an instrument of male, patriarchal oppression. Any attempt to bolster marriage or the traditional family was repulsed on the grounds that it would stigmatise single mothers.
So New Labour in office ended the married couples allowance. This happened in one of Gordon Brown’s early budgets, cynically entitled “a budget for the family”. By the end, marriage itself ceased to be a category recognised in Whitehall, meaning that when data were analysed for policy purposes it was impossible for civil servants to make any judgment about whether marriage had better outcomes for children.
What New Labour was doing was encouraging a remarkable social experiment. Traditional marriage has been at the heart of British society since time immemorial, providing stability, security, a bulwark against an overmighty state, and the ideal framework for rearing children. The riots of last week show the devastating consequence of that leap into the dark.
Fourthly, New Labour promoted a divisive and unequal society. Within months of entering office, Peter Mandelson, then trade secretary, made his infamous pronouncement that Labour felt “intensely relaxed” about people becoming “filthy rich”. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown pioneered a series of tax breaks that have enabled a tiny group of men and women to make personal fortunes of a kind not seen since the plutocrats of Edwardian Britain. A significant proportion of these hugely rich men feel the identical sense of impunity and entitlement as the unemployed youths who plundered shopping centres last week. Every bit as surely as so-called feral youth – and with far less excuse – they have played a malign role in generating the moral disequilibrium of modern Britain.
New Labour could not see this. It believed – and this is perhaps understandable in a party that lost four elections in a row from 1979 – that the only thing that mattered was election victory. So Labour strategists only concentrated on those sections of society who voted. Unemployed black youths in Tottenham, or the white working class in Manchester and Liverpool, were simply taken for granted. Crucially, they tended to congregate in constituencies with large Labour majorities, not the vital marginals where elections are won and lost.
So for 13 years they were the invisible and the forgotten – until last week’s eruption. Successive British governments, through wilful neglect, have created a monster, and now we have to live with the consequences or, better still, to find a solution.
Paradoxically, I believe that the Conservatives are best placed to do this. To their enormous credit they used their long years in opposition to ponder the problem of an emergent urban underclass. Iain Duncan Smith, during the wilderness years that followed his humiliating assassination as Tory leader, led this work – with the full backing of David Cameron. In a series of reports from the think tank Centre for Social Justice, Duncan Smith identified the factors that lead to social despair – drugs, alcohol, debt, unemployment, family breakdown. He argued that the answer to social collapse does not just depend on the injection of large sums of money, which was Labour’s answer to any predicament. Far more important is the restoration of people’s independence, pride and self-respect. This is hard, for there are now many parts of Britain where the tradition of work has vanished, and entire communities that have become dependent on the state.
Changing the welfare system so that there is a genuine economic incentive for the unemployed to go out to work is one part of the answer. Restoring hope and aspiration is another. Rebuilding the family, and the values of independence and steadfastness it brings, is perhaps most important of all.
Iain Duncan Smith’s programme of change and renewal means redefining what it is to be a human being and a British citizen. It means widespread moral regeneration – and not just for the poor. All of us have to acknowledge that we are part of society, with the obligations and duties that involves. It also means recognising the power of virtues that have been unfashionable for much too long: decency, courage, discipline, duty and self-sacrifice. Only if we rebuild those age-old values can we come close to confronting the disaster in Britain’s inner cities.